DURANT, George (1731-80), of Tong Castle, Salop

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1768 - 1774

Family and Education

bap. 20 Nov. 1731,1 2nd s. of Rev. Josiah Durant, rector of Hagley, Worcs. by Anne, da. of George Hand of Lichfield.2  educ. St. Edmund Hall, Oxf. 1750.  m. July 1773, Maria, da. of Mark Beaufoy, a Quaker, and sis. of Henry Beaufoy, 1s. 1da.

Offices Held

Biography

Durant’s grandfather, father, and brother were rectors of Hagley, but he fell foul of the Lyttelton family: about 1756 he had an affair with Elizabeth, wife of George Lyttelton—one cause of their separation.3

Durant was a clerk in the Pay Office, 1757-Feb. 1762, from 1762, first clerk; in a list sent on 1 Apr. 1761 to James West by George Munro, who was trying ‘to get a footing’ in the Office, the value of Durant’s employment appears as £250 p.a.4 In 1758 Durant acted as deputy-paymaster to the expedition against Guadeloupe. John Calcraft explained to Peter Taylor on 19 Oct.5 that even had it been possible to send his son, R. Paris Taylor, it would not have been thought advisable—‘the money is to be issued in Spanish silver, and what is more, the climate to which they are destined not very healthy ... so Durant of the Office goes.’

On 13 Jan. 1762, Henry Fox wrote to his friend J. L. Nicholl of the Pay Office: ‘Mr. Durant has asked to go paymaster [to the expedition against Havana]; Mr. West ... recommends Mr. Munro.’6 And on 15 Feb. 1762 to Lord Albemarle:7

I wish Mr. Lechmere had taken his determination to decline the deputy paymastership a little sooner ... The very short time he has left me has made it extremely difficult to find a proper person ... I have appointed Mr. Durant, who is first clerk in my office, well acquainted with the business and was employed in the same capacity with the expedition to Guadeloupe; he behaved himself very well in that service ... I have promised him he shall remain with the troops as long as they continue abroad; it would not have been worth his while to have undertaken this employment on any other conditions.

From that expedition Durant returned a rich man. In 1764 he purchased the Tong estate from the Duke of Kingston,8 ‘demolished all but the main block of Sir Harry Vernon’s castle built in 1500, and encased the remaining portion of it in stone according to a fanciful design of his own, a mixture of Gothic and Moorish architecture’,9 spending large sums on thus ‘embellishing’ the Castle and improving the estate.10 But how had he managed to amass that fortune? A search of the War Office records11 has shown that over £300,000 of Government money passed through his hands. There was also the enormous prize money of that expedition: after deducting the share of the commander-in-chief and his second-in-command, £221,000 was left for the army. Here was a chance of pickings: owing to heavy mortality and sickness, only a small proportion of the soldiers were alive or present to draw their share. Even so, the size of Durant’s fortune, and the short time in which it was amassed, remain a puzzle.

At the Southwark by-election of 1765 Durant canvassed the borough against Henry Thrale, although outsiders stood little chance in it. Between 23 Sept. and 5 Oct. Durant’s advertisement appeared in the Public Advertiser, and he conducted a strenuous canvass in the borough, but gave it up on 15 Oct.

He next attempted Evesham. Mark Beaufoy, whose family was connected with the borough, wrote on 1 Sept. 1767 to Sir John Rushout—Sir John and his son were the sitting Members:12

Having been informed by letters from Evesham of thy resolution not to stand a contested election for that borough, I take the liberty, on behalf of Mr. Durant, to renew my proposal, made when I had the pleasure of waiting upon thee at Northwick, viz. That in consideration of thy interest, Mr. Durant will pay the expense of Mr. Rushout’s return, provided Mr. Durant becomes one of the sitting Members.

Rushout’s reply is not extant, but even if accepted, the offer could not have been openly avowed—James West reported to Newcastle about Evesham on 11 Oct.:13

There will probably be a very warm contest: Sir John Rushout has declined on account of age, and the town where are 900 voters were so angry at his bringing in two last time, that Mr. Rushout has been obliged to declare, he will not join any one and in that light only is his security. Mr. Durant without one gentleman in the country to support him, spends money, yet I think my son must succeed at last for in the turn things have taken there and the number and nature of the electors, nothing can be certain till the time of election.

In the end West’s son did not stand but Sir John Rushout re-appeared as candidate—was it a feint to keep away others? On 24 Mar. 1768 West wrote to Newcastle:14 ‘I am sorry to tell your Grace Sir John Rushout on the morning of the election declined at Evesham and Mr. Durant and his son Rushout were chose.’

There is no record of Durant having spoken in the House. On 3 Feb. 1769 he is listed as voting for the expulsion of Wilkes, and on 8 May for seating Luttrell. But on 6 Dec. 1770 he is reported to have voted with Opposition for Glynn’s motion for a committee on the administration of justice—he may, however, have been confused with Thomas Durrant, whose recorded votes were all with Opposition and who does not appear in that list. Over the royal marriage bill, March 1772, Durant was classed by Robinson as ‘pro, present’. No further votes of his are recorded; but again it is possible that some vote of his was assigned to John Durand, another Government supporter.

Durant stood again for Evesham in 1774 but was badly defeated. In July 1780 John Robinson noted in his survey against Evesham: ‘Mr. Durant who represented it in the last Parliament it is said will stand again and with success, he was found a good friend to Government.’ But he died on 4 Aug., two months before the general election; and is buried in St. Bartholomew’s church at Tong, among the eight magnificent tombs of the Vernons whose castle he destroyed.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier

Notes

  • 1. Hagley par. reg.
  • 2. A. L. Reade, Johnsonian Gleanings, iv. 198.
  • 3. M. Wyndham, Chrons. of 18th Cent. ii. 271-2, 280. See also T. Frost, Life of Ld. Lyttelton, 38-43.
  • 4. Add. 34728, f. 74.
  • 5. Add. 17494, ff. 36-37.
  • 6. Hen. Fox mss.
  • 7. Albemarle mss.
  • 8. S. Bagshaw, Hist. Salop, 487.
  • 9. Griffiths, Guide to Tong Church, 66.
  • 10. H. F. J. Vaughan, ‘Some Account of the Rickley Grange Estate, Salop’, Shropshire Arch. Soc. Trans. 1878-9, pp. 213-72.
  • 11. T. H. McGuffie, ‘A Deputy Paymaster’s Fortune’, Jnl. Army Hist. Res. 1954.
  • 12. G. Beaufoy, Leaves from a Beech Tree, 113.
  • 13. Add. 32985, ff. 443-4.